Friday, June 29, 2007


Great things about today

  1. The weather is so beautiful, I actually teared up a little when I came out onto the deck to work this morning.
  2. I don’t have much work to do. With the exception of a couple small projects, I’m essentially on vacation until July 10.
  3. This morning it occurred to me to try forwarding calls meant for my home phone number to my cell phone. It seems to work. Somebody call my home number and test it, would you? Thanks.
  4. Pizza and ice cream sandwiches for breakfast. I don’t mean pizza-and-ice-cream sandwiches; I mean ice cream sandwiches for dessert after pizza. Pepperoni & pineapple; chocolate & peanut butter. You sort ‘em out.
  5. An unexpected voice message (via the ‘net, yet) from MrP about DragonCon. Should I go? And should I look up my new friends at upscale magazine if I do?

Today I’ll start packing for the westward trek (leaving Sunday). I’ve decided to take the cats with me rather than leave them cooped up in the house alone for a week. Instead, I’ll coop them up in Mother Media’s house. It’s much bigger, and I’ll be able to give them some attention.

I need to buy ice for the cooler and batteries for the camera. I’ll probably pack more electronics and cables than clothing.

Apparently I was mistaken about the capacity of my Picasa photo album. Check out the Back to the ’50s car show — click the image to go to the album. Uncle Kenny, feel free to supply accurate captions.

Geek bonus: You can now subscribe to my Picasa gallery's RSS feed.

Back to the 50s Car Show 6/22/07


Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Another day, another challenge on my road to mastery. Last night, Sifu Ray assigned me and Julie to teach a portion of the San-Shou class. Our students have already learned half the two-person dance, either side A or side B. Julie is going to teach the Bs their A side, and I'm going to teach the As their B.

Yeah, I was surprised, too.

We'll do most of our classes as a group so the two sides can serve as partners for each other, and there will be one of us modeling each. This is a relief to me, as Julie has taught San-Shou before and I haven't, so I'm very willing to follow her lead.

Teaching the movements and the principles will not be too tough. The hard part will be dealing with BBS, or Brown Belt Syndrome. BBS describes the attitude of someone who knows a decent amount of martial arts stuff — has earned a brown belt — but is not nearly as close to black as he thinks. We were getting more than enough "helpful feedback" from our learned fellows last night.

Sure, it can be tough to see your classmate set in authority over you, if your ego is easily threatened. But part of learning martial arts is learning to set that ego aside. Mastery of self is a prerequisite for achieving mastery over others, and it's far and away the hardest thing to learn.

I hope I don't have to give that speech in class while looking certain people in the eye.

Well, we'll be fine. Julie has done this before, and Sifu will help any time I'm smart enough to ask (hard lesson #2). It'll be fun.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

potluck or rodeo?

One great thing about today: It’s the day after Mother Media’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom!!

Another: Free hot dogs, chips, cookies, and freezypops on campus. We missed out on the free t-shirts, but we did kill an extra-long lunch hour.

Another: If all is going as planned, there’s a crew painting my garage right now. Guys came to scrape yesterday, and they hoped to complete priming and painting today. Yay!

Another: This fantastic Rube Goldberg machine! Watch the video and gape away. Link.

Inane ramblings

I went to the Back to the ’50s car show with my aunt & uncle over the weekend. It was fun and interesting, but the few hours I spent there caused major sensory overload. I took about 75 pictures, some interesting, some less so. I quickly gave up trying to choose cool cars to photograph — too many! — and soon also gave up trying to narrow it to cool blue cars. Oy! The copious cool blueness! I ended up with a bunch of shots of funky hood ornaments, grilles, and the like. Not bad, if I do say so myself, since I couldn’t see what was in my viewfinder in the bright daylight.

I was thinking of posting them on a Picasa album, but to make space, I’d have to delete an existing album or two — or pay for premium service, which ain’t gonna happen. Jury’s still out on the deleting. Meanwhile, I made a quick little flyer of recap and a few snaps for the rest of the family and enclosed it with a CD containing all my photos. The clan digs stuff like that, so it’s easy to make people happy.

iPhones come out on Friday. I will gaze longingly toward the Apple store, but I will stand strong and refrain from purchasing. I’m planning to give it a few months, pay attention to user reviews, set aside some money, etc. You know, do the prudent consumer thing.

For the class reunion, I’m thinking of buying 10 lbs. of M&Ms in the school colors @ $13.80/lb. Is this stupid? I suspect so. But it will probably be my sole contribution to the festivities, other than some hummus for the potluck — which I may mostly miss to attend the rodeo. Yeah, those are my choices: potluck or rodeo. Which would you choose?

On Sunday, I went shopping. Although I ended up somewhat disappointed with Sarah Jessica Parker’s new Bitten collection, I did find a couple inexpensive shirts suitable for summer wear AND a pair of sunglasses I like, which were worth the trip by themselves.

I sincerely appreciate that SJP is bringing “fashion” to the masses at low low prices, but I feel compelled to issue this news flash: some adult women are taller/wider than SJP and would appreciate seeing the clothes scaled accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with creating a collection for the petite frame, but we average-size cheapskates would like to play, too. More, please.

On my way out, I also stumbled across a sale at Ann Taylor Loft and found some nice t-shirts and crop pants, and a swell hoodie, for prices I could actually afford. Snapped ‘em up right quick, I did, with the reunion in mind. It’s great to finally be able to buy the casual stuff I’ve always liked but regretfully passed over as not dressy enough for the office. Now: no office most days, and the dress code on campus is more relaxed than in the corporate Borg cube. This is further proof that I am God’s favorite.

Over the weekend, Lucia, an ex-colleague from the Borg cube called to find out more about what I’m doing so she can recommend my services to her network. That was a really, really nice thing for her to do.

Interesting thing: Now that I do work I love and have gotten some practice promoting myself, I must sound confident and energized in a way I never have before. When I describe what I do, people say, “Wow! You sound so sure about that!” Lucia remarked on it, and a couple recruiters and prospective clients have, too. I’ve always had a job title at the ready for past queries, but apparently not the visible enthusiasm, even when I tried. It makes an impression.

And . . . I’m hungry again.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Mondays are a gas

Phrase of the week, courtesy of my blogfriend Mo:

That guy is so anal, when he farts only dogs can hear it.

In other, less exciting Monday news:

I've been in touch with some painters to come give me an estimate on painting the garage.

The roofers who already gave me their estimates are getting antsy. I need to just pick one and set a date.

Working on my latest project for the U, I'm learning more about pulp and paper technology than I ever expected to.

I'm having a problem with my Google calendar — it refuses to open a certain recurring event so I can update it. I'm having e-mail conversations with the Google help squad about it.

I'm done with the humidity, thanks. You can have it back.


Friday, June 15, 2007


I spent several hours toiling away in my home office today. It was interesting, lucrative work for my highest-paying client, but I still found myself getting unreasonably grumpy around 2:00. Why?

Oh yeah: because I was indoors on a fine day.

Often I can bring my work outside, but today’s tasks required an unusual amount of printing, faxing, and scanning. The fax on the receiving end wasn’t receiving what I sent, so I ended up having to scan marked-up pages and e-mail the images back. This doubled my work time (and my billable hours, let’s not forget), which also doubled my indoor time. Hence, grumpy.

But the client is in the Eastern Time zone, two hours ahead of me, so when they knocked off around 6:45, it was only 4:45 for me. Huzzah! To the deck!

I had expected to spend more time indoors cleaning house for company this afternoon/evening, but alas, I won’t be having guests after all. Sister-san called just as I was wrapping up work to tell me that J-bird had a temperature and wasn’t really in traveling shape. It’s hard to say which of the three of us was most disappointed. I, at least, have a fresh raspberry coffee cake to console me — but no one to share it with.

Last night’s happy hour was fun. It was nice to see old friends and new, and to commiserate with Matt. He’s going to spend the summer enjoying time with his family and not rush to sort out his next work venture. Sounds like a good plan.

Oh, and I liked the way he introduced me to his wife: “Honey, this is Kim. I fired her.” Yeah, we go way back.

Well, my desk is officially closed and my feet are officially up. I’ll do some more work tomorrow, but the rest of today? Nope.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

penned in

Ever watch a movie for the lead actor rather than for the plot, and end up still liking him even if he’s in a complete crapper of a film? I did that last night. The actor is Kal Penn. The movie is unimportant.

I was outside yesterday from about 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., and it was heavenly. I worked for a couple hours apiece on various projects, read for a couple hours, took a walk, played with the cats, watched that movie, and ate three meals, all outdoors. Sitting in the shade, with just a touch of sprinkler spray splashing my neck, watching a brilliant cardinal shimmy with delight in the water, I could barely believe the day qualified as productive. But it did.

Tonight there’s a cocktail hour in honor of my ex-manager Matt, the one who laid me off from the HMO and was just laid off himself last week. I’m curious to see how Matt will react to me, and whether he’ll be spilling any beans about our former workplace. I suspect he won’t, even in his cups; he’s a professional and knows how to be discrete (unlike those of us who blab our woes to the entire blogosphere). But I’ll ply him with liquor and a friendly ear anyway.

When I get home, there will be more magazine pages awaiting my perusal. Most of them are in the layout stage now, which means I’m seeing them for the second time and can trust that the contents are accurate. I can concentrate on graphic issues.

But I still have a few first-stage stories to read, too. Those take longer because I have to verify everything, from the spelling of names to the accuracy of URLs. If a story talks about Suchandsuch Inn rather than Hotel, or Mo’Nique rather than Monique, I’m the one who makes sure we get it right. Thank god for the ‘Net. I don’t know how fact checkers stayed sane in the olden days.

Know what I think is fantastic? Receiving a B&N gift card so big that I was able to replace nearly all my long-lost XTC albums in one swell foop. Thanks, Mom.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

class act

You know my quarter-time gig with Online U? Every term, they have a big in-person meet-up called a residency. You know, to add the human touch to those cyberdiplomas. This year the residency is right here in town — on the campus of the U of MN, in fact; right next door to the building in which I work, in further fact. And apparently I’ve “volunteered” to present a seminar on using Word templates and style sheets.

Um, hooray for me?

And apparently the seminar is nearly three hours long. BOO! BOO, I say!

Everybody knows that Word templates and style sheets are fascinating beyond measure, and we could easily spend the entire week basking in their intricacies. I think that goes without saying. And goodness knows I can flap my yap for marathon durations, especially when the Q&A gets going and the participants essentially do the work for me. These are not problems.

No, what concerns me is the fact that I’m going to sweat, and it’s going to show. I perspire if I think too hard, or if it’s summertime, or if it’s humid, or if I’m nervous, and at least two of these conditions will be met during the seminar. So while I should be preparing my presentation and writing my abstract, instead I’m obsessing about the ignominy of pit stains.

I’m no stranger to this phenomenon, of course. I’ve been a sweater all my life, and I’ve developed ways of working around it. Problem is, I’m not sure they’ll work in this situation.

Strategy 1: Wear black so the wet doesn’t show.
That’s fine in a martial arts class, but I don’t think my wardrobe of kung fu school t-shirts is quite professional enough for a room full of Ph.D. wannabes. I also don’t have any summer clothes in black. Maybe this is an excuse to go shopping?

Strategy 2: Wear layers so the underneath shirt absorbs the sweat.
Layers? In mid-July?

Strategy 3: Keep arms glued to my sides at all times.
Can’t. I try to use big, confident gestures when I do public speaking so people think I know what the heck I’m talking about. Also, if technology is on my side, I will frequently point to an overhead screen illustrating my speech. Arms will rise.

Strategy 4: Install dress shields.
Dress shields, as they’re quaintly called, are sanitary pads for your pits. (The name dates from the days when ladies wore dresses all the time, but antiperspirant hadn’t necessarily been invented yet.) You peel the backing from the self-adhesive strips and press the absorbent pads to the underarms of your clothing.

Charming, no? No. Shields help, as long as you stick them in the right place, and as long as they don’t slip and/or crumple — which mine have a tendency to do when they get soaked. While this strategy is a go (Shields up!), I don’t want it to be my only hope. And I always worry that the shield is going to show and everyone will know I’m all wet anyway.

And speaking of antiperspirants, using one seems like a no-brainer, right? Yeah. I paint myself with an antiperspirant/deodorant every morning. It only does half the job, though: it keeps me unstinky, but I’ve yet to find one that will stop the sweat.

Strategy 5: Insist that the room be nice and cool.
Doesn’t matter how cool the room is. I’ll be nervous up there, and when I’m nervous, I sweat. I can sweat while shivering. Special talent.

Quite the dilemma, isn’t it. So all pit-protecting suggestions are welcome. And if you have any favorite tips and tricks for using templates and style sheets, I’d love to hear those, too.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

when the road gets rocky

Changes are afoot at the T’ai Chi studio, and I don’t like them. Specifically, the pushing-hands class is being dumbed down to a near-crippling extent by the removal of the willow exercise. Willow — the very heart of this aspect of T’ai Chi — is being cut from the curriculum because apparently some people can’t play nicely with others, and the instructors have been getting too many complaints. (Since those instructors are models of patience, I can only imagine how numerous and how strident the complaints must be.) In practical terms, what the change means is this: Anyone who wants to gain the deeper skills of pushing-hands is going to have to schedule private lessons.

While I understand that the traditional path to mastery is just such an arrangement, a one-to-one relationship between master and student, it still pisses me off that advanced teachings cannot be part of regular classes. Once, just once, I’d like to belong to an educational system where higher-level lessons can be part of the regular curriculum rather than something extra that has to be squeezed into teachers’ and students’ spare time.

OK, I’m being very unfair. Twin Cities T’ai Chi does, in fact, incorporate an unprecedentedly vast breadth and depth of high-level material into regular classes. The teaching is ridiculously generous. And it’s not as if I’ve absorbed all of it and am entitled to move on. Far from it; I’m only now reaching the level where I can truly appreciate the richness of a private lesson. I’d just hate to see this school get caught on the slippery slope of dumbing down its curriculum to the lowest common denominator, that’s all.

Of course, my next question is, why not take the misbehavers aside and tell them to knock the shit off? Why not make them take the extra lessons to get their skills up to standard? And if they don’t, why not show them the door? Afraid of hurting somebody’s feelings?

Well, too late. My feelings have already been hurt by seeing bad students accommodated over good ones.


Monday, June 04, 2007


Sean Altman strikes again — with doowopera

Everyone who has ever wanted to see Sean and his lovely bride Inna Dukach perform together absolutely must watch this video. It's slammin' smart and wicked funny, which is no less than we expect from our boy Sean. View the entire clip.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

six feet under

So I’ve just begun watching Six Feet Under. It’s everything Grey’s Anatomy is not: honest, shocking, gritty, moving. The sex is dirty, the language is foul, and the smoking doesn’t look quite as contrived. The series doesn’t look contrived — which is how you know it isn’t a primetime network show. I’m just a handful of episodes into the first season, but I’m really enjoying it.

Shifting gears:
Here’s something about me that annoys me. Let’s say somebody asks me to do something, a thing I know I'll enjoy, but initially I don't want to do it because . . . basically because it was not my own idea. Why can’t I just skip straight to the part where I expect to have fun? It annoys me that every request to step outside my cave feels like an imposition, even welcome invitations. Sometimes I’d like to be just a little bit less introverted.

Well, I’m not so intro when it comes for asking for my money. I’ve had to prod several clients about invoices lately. In the past, I would have let it ride for like 8 weeks. But now? I’m all “Show me the money!” after about 15 days. In the nicest, most professional-sounding way, of course.

Shifting again:
Anyway. Despite the introversion handicap, I managed to pick up yet another new client this past week, so I’ve spent the majority of the weekend working on their project. The editing they wanted done wasn’t all that major, but reformatting the document was a challenge, especially since Microsoft Word thinks it’s smarter than me and is always doing clever little things like reformatting my page footers every time I auto-update the TOC. GRR! But the rest of the project seems fine, and if the client likes it, there will be more.

Also, apparently I applied for some sort of research assistantship at the U (where I already work in course development), and tonight — at 6:36 on a Sunday evening, to be exact — I got a message about coming in for an interview. Dude, I don’t even remember what this job is, let alone why I applied for it! Guess I’d better go look that one up and call them back.

Really, I shouldn’t have applied. I’ve got more than enough to do right now. I probably shouldn’t even have taken on the latest new client. Well, I quoted them my highest hourly rate, the one that makes people say, “No, seriously. How much?” and they said they’d pay it, so I’ll deal. But I’ve made a new rule: No new clients who pay any less than that highest rate. I’m in a position to start saying “no” now. Gotta try that.

One last time:
My climbing roses are storming my front gate in a riot of hot pink and bouncing brambles. They desperately need trimming, but I can’t bear to cut them while they’re blooming. Maybe in the fall.

The new lilac bush I planted a couple weeks ago, however, is looking droopy despite the rain we’ve been getting. Hmm. I poured a whole watering can’s worth of water over it earlier tonight, and the ground soaked it all up. So I guess either the rain hasn’t been as plentiful as it has seemed, or that poor lilac just needs a lot more water than I thought.

All right, enough. Time to squeeze in just one more ep of Six Feet Under before bed.